UglyDolls, directed by Kelly Asbury and written by Alison Peck, is a vivacious 3D-animated musical comedy featuring a number of big-name celebrities. It follows the adventures of a doll named Moxy and her friends as they venture outside of their eccentric home, UglyVille, to the Institute of Perfection. The institute is an orderly place opposite of everything they’ve ever known, but with its rigorous training, the dolls hope to reach the “Big World” and unite with a child to become their toy. (BV 3.5/5)
Review by Intern Beatrice Viri
In UglyDolls, the town of Uglyville is a vivacious playground for its plush citizens, but the idealistic dreamer Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) has always longed for more. Though the mayor of Uglyville, Ox (Blake Shelton), continuously tells her that the outside world (dubbed “Big World”) doesn’t exist, she’s always hoped for a child to love and cherish. One day, after consulting advice from her friend Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), she decides to explore the tunnel that all new dolls come from, along with other pals Wage (Wanda Sykes), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) and Ugly Dog (Pitbull).
The tunnel transports them to the Institute of Perfection, a place centered on order, efficiency, and excellence— unlike Uglyville, where most dolls live wildly without a care. However, after a series of grueling tests, dolls at the Institute are able to go to the Big World to become a child’s playtoy. Elated at the prospect, Moxy and her crew enroll in the rigorous academy and befriend one of the dolls, Mandy (Janelle Monáe). However, anything less than perfect will have the team kicked out. Will the dolls succeed, or will Lou (Nick Jonas), the Institute’s leader and the “picture of perfection,” get in the way of Moxy’s lifelong dream? Will Lou’s secret conniving and ridicule of their flaws cause the fun-loving crew—and Uglyville’s—downfall?
Plot-wise, UglyDolls is a generic “love yourself despite your flaws” movie. It’s a kid’s movie that attempts to teach one of the simplest lesson of all— but rushes a few scenes and shortens explanations, failing to explain a few logistics and details. The movie loses itself in the lessons it tries to teach, but it’s very straightforward; with its mid-budget and short time slot, its shortcomings are easy to understand. If given more time, the movie could be polished, but as it is Ugly Dolls is a bit of a dated franchise.
Besides, it’s not like most moviegoers are coming to watch UglyDolls for the plot. Most adults are interested in its stars and music; UglyDolls has plenty to share. The movie bursts with song, having numbers every few minutes (it is a musical, after all), and the big names speak for themselves. The score is poppy, upbeat and funky, fitting the eccentric, bright UglyDoll universe.
The accompanying animation is vibrant and fluid, featuring dynamic movements fitting of each musical skit and each character has a multitude of quirky expressions. My favorite scene was Mandy’s “makeover” that featured motion graphics on top of 3D models— the sequence’s style reminded me of Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, a movie that revolutionized animation, and the combination made the scene visually eye-popping and fun to follow. I wouldn’t say that Ugly Dolls is groundbreaking in any sense, and it isn’t as flashy as Spiderman was, but it didn’t have the budget or time that movie had either.
Overall, UglyDolls is a colorful, lively movie featuring kooky, cute characters that are easy to warm up to. It’s uplifting and joyful— the FF2 Media team sat next to a few kids in the theater and they laughed, gasped at suspenseful scenes and commented on sad moments, genuinely engaged and interested. UglyDolls is a movie made for your inner child, and with how the kids we were with enjoyed themselves, I’d say it was a success.
© Beatrice Viri | FF2 Media
With flying colors! There’s a huge female cast, and a lot of heartwarming moments between the characters.
Commentary by Review Coach Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
I have to admit, I was ready to only enjoy Ugly Dolls ironically when I first heard this was mine and Bea’s movie for the week. I knew of the toy line that the movie is based on, and I don’t generally think much of movies based on toy lines (Battleship, anyone?). It’s a testament to how incorrigibly charming this movie is that it got past my prior judgments. If you’re into Adventure Time or other kids’ media that can be enjoyed by adults, you might like Ugly Dolls. To be honest, the songs are really catchy! I’m not joking when I say I’ve listened to a couple of them on Spotify (though I used headphones so my roommates wouldn’t ask me what it was). If you want to take a kid to a movie this week that will teach them to love themselves and distrust pretty people, Ugly Dolls is the perfect choice!